Cricket: Ilott and Croft tarnish game with fracas

NATWEST TROPHY SEMI-FINAL: Tempers frayed as bad light brings close with Essex eight down and six short

Glamorgan 301-8 Essex 296-8

Rarely can a NatWest semi- final packed with so much incident and ill-temper have ended so inconclusively as the one here did yesterday. With 46 balls remaining, Essex, with two wickets in hand, needed six runs for victory when the umpires offered them the light.

It was a decision the home side gratefully accepted, but not before Glamorgan's Robert Croft and Mark Ilott had shared a difference of opinion, a fracas that ended with Ilott shoving the England off-spinner away.

With play officially being called off at 8.10, few could blame the batsmen for coming off. Facing Waqar Younis, one of the world's fastest bowlers in rapidly fading light, is tantamount to cricketing suicide, and their decision was later upheld by the Glamorgan captain, Matthew Maynard. Earlier there had also been two incidents involving Darren Thomas.

"It was tarnished a bit at the end," Maynard said. "Something went on out there." The English Cricket Board quickly instructed the umpires, David Constant and Chris Balderstone, not to comment, but some sort of official investigation into the incidents seems certain.

The Essex stand-in captain, Nasser Hussain, declined to comment, as did Ilott and Croft, while Maynard added: "I don't know what started it. I can't comment until I've spoken to everyone and found out what's gone on. I haven't heard the full story yet but I back my players 100 per cent.

"All our matches have been tense this year. We've shown a willingness to fight, which has been brilliant, and the players have been a credit to themselves.

"It's a difficult one. You must try and assess the situation when there's bad light. There's a young lad playing his first NatWest match [Tim Hodgson] and a guy who's played cricket for England in Ilott. Mark's been around for a while. The umpires probably made the right decision.

"It was getting too dark, wasn't it? I think the umpires did a tremendous job in trying to finish today. Nobody wanted the game to go to a second day."

The argy-bargy was by no means the only unsavoury moment in a match where tempers ran as hot as the steamy weather, and there were more than a few unpleasantries shared between batsman and bowler when Stuart Law's sensational innings of 90 had been brutally interrupted by a Thomas beamer.

Chasing Glamorgan's large total of 301, Law set off like a whirling dervish - Waqar's first three overs cost an alarming 28 runs. It was not until he reached 44 that the brisk and exuberant Thomas decided to test the Queenslander's reactions with a hand-to-head ball that smashed into Law's wrist as he tried to avoid decapitation.

Afterwards Maynard said he felt Law had over-reacted to the incident. He said: "We told him to pick up his rattle and dummy and put them back in his pram."

But if the warts and all tussle between the sides typified the crudeness of the English game, Law's innings shone like Hale-Bopp on a cloudless night. If further proof were needed of the vast gulf that exists between the English and Australian game you would have to go a long way to find it.

If his wrist was damaged, his weight of shot was not, and he pierced Glamorgan's defensive field at will. After Steve James's efficient century earlier in the day, its frenetic nature was the symbolic re-enactment of the hare and the tortoise.

That fable, however, holds a cautionary tale that Essex supporters will identify with, and when Law finally succumbed to a catch on the long-off fence, trying to clout Gary Butcher for a second six, the groans were audible.

They were justified, too, as the rest of the Essex batsmen adopted a gung-ho attitude to the chase. Only Ronnie Irani, whose brave and defiant innings of 51 was made after he had torn a rib cartilage bowling earlier in the day, showed the necessary coolness.

Although a painkilling injection was needed to ease the pain, it did not numb his head. In fact, that happened later when he "collided" with Thomas after the fast bowler had trapped him lbw.

It was Thomas's fourth wicket in 19 balls as Essex, after an appalling performance in the field where they dropped four catches, showed all their old weaknesses when chasing a total. Today may only offer a few balls, but it could go either way, particularly if Waqar is on target with his early deliveries.

Chelmsford scoreboard

Essex won toss

GLAMORGAN

S P James c Robinson b Grayson 109

H Morris c S Law b Cowan 6

A Dale c Grayson b Grayson 45

*M P Maynard run out 26

P A Cottey c Grayson b Ilott 56

R D B Croft run out 14

G P Butcher not out 18

A D Shaw run out 1

S D Thomas c S Law b Cowan 1

Extras (lb9, w10, nb6) 25

Total (for 8, 60 overs) 301

Fall: 1-13, 2-115, 3-165, 4-251, 5-276, 6-291, 7-294, 8-301.

Did not bat: Waqar Younis, S L Watkin.

Bowling: Ilott 12-2-50-1; Cowan 12-0-62-2; Irani 9.2-0-36-0; S G Law 5.4-0-37-0; Such 12-0-56-0; Grayson 9-0-51-2.

ESSEX

D D J Robinson c Cottey b Watkin 62

S G Law c Younis b Butcher 90

*N Hussain c Maynard b Watkin 28

R C Irani lbw b Thomas 51

A P Grayson c Shaw b Thomas 22

D R Law b Thomas 17

R J Rollins c James b Thomas 2

A P Cowan lbw b Thomas 2

T P Hodgson not out 0

M C Ilott not out 0

Extras (b4, lb6, w6, nb6) 22

Total (for 8, 53.1 overs) 296

Fall: 1-150, 2-194, 3-195, 4-256, 5-280, 6-286, 7-295, 8-295.

To bat: P M Such.

Bowling: Watkin 12-1-64-2; Waqar 8.1-1-45-0; Thomas 11-0-70-4; Croft 12-0-47-0; Butcher 7-0-39-1; Dale 3-0-21-0.

Umpires: J C Balderstone and D J Constant.

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